How to Insert Absolute and Relative Hyperlinks in a Microsoft Word Document

If you want a hyperlink to always work, use absolute and relative hyperlinks appropriately in a Microsoft Word document.

Image: Sai/Adobe Stock

Hyperlinks take users to another location in the Microsoft Word document, another document or a web page. Inserting hyperlinks is a simple task, but you may encounter problems when inserting hyperlinks to external files. Word supports two types of hyperlinks: absolute and relative. It is essential to use the correct one when linking to an external file.

SEE: Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365: A Side-by-Side Analysis with Checklist (TechRepublic Premium)

In this tutorial, you will learn the difference between absolute and relative hyperlinks in Word, so that you can apply them correctly. I use Microsoft 365 on a 64-bit Windows 10 system, but you can use older versions of Word.

The Difference Between Absolute and Relative in Word

If you’re unfamiliar with hyperlinks, there are some terms you may not be familiar with, so let’s quickly review them.

A Hyperlink is specially formatted content that responds to a click by opening a file, webpage, or moving the cursor to another location within the same file. By default, Word underlines hyperlinks and changes linked text to blue, but also coordinates with the document’s theme colors. Hyperlinks in a Word document change color once you click on them to indicate that you have used them.

A absolute hyperlink contains the full address of the target file or website, such as https://techrepublic.com. Use them when you’re linking to a web page or file that’s outside of your domain.

A relative hyperlink contains an address relative to the current domain or file location. They contain only the name of the target page preceded by the path of the folder necessary to reach the target file.

Now let’s take the next step and insert some hyperlinks in a Word document.

How to Quickly Insert Hyperlinks in Word

Word is smart enough to recognize a URL or email address and responds by formatting the address as a hyperlink. Entering the address is the only task you have.

For example, in a Word document, type https://techrepublic.com and press Enter. Word will immediately format it as a hyperlink, as shown in Figure A. By clicking on the hyperlink, you will be redirected to the TechRepublic homepage. This is an absolute link; it will always take you to the same place unless that page no longer exists.

Figure A

Enter a URL and Word automatically applies the hyperlink format.

On the surface, hyperlinks display the full URL or descriptive text. If you want to edit the hyperlink text, right-click on it and choose Edit Hyperlink from the resulting submenu. In the resulting dialog box, change the text of the Text to Display control to TechRepublic, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Change the hyperlink display text.

Figure C

The hyperlink no longer displays the URL.

When you want to link to another location in the current document, you’ll use the same interface to add a hyperlink to a title or bookmark that’s in the same document. To demonstrate this behavior, you’ll need a Word document with heading text that you’ve styled with one of the built-in headings, such as Heading 2. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. First, enter the title text, Section Two, and apply the Heading 2 style. This is where the hyperlink will lead.
  2. Position your cursor where you want to add the hyperlink that links to the title of section two – on another page or several pages further.
  3. Enter the Section Two hyperlink text and right-click it.
  4. Select Link from the resulting submenu.
  5. In the resulting dialog box, click Place in this document (Figure D).
  6. In the list, click Section Two.
  7. Click OK.

Figure D

Hyperlink the text.

After adding the hyperlink, you can click on it to go to the header of section two. This is a relative hyperlink. If you add or remove pages, the hyperlink knows where the section two header is and you don’t need to update the hyperlink itself.

It’s easy to insert a relative hyperlink without even knowing it. When this happens, the link may not work properly after the document is distributed.

How to Use Absolute Hyperlinks in All New Word Documents

One way to ensure that hyperlinks always find the right target outside your domain is to use absolute hyperlinks. In fact, you can even force Word to use absolute hyperlinks like so:

  1. Click on the File menu and select Options.
  2. In the left pane, click Advanced.
  3. In the General section, click Web Options.
  4. Click on the Files tab.
  5. Uncheck Update links on save (Figure E).
  6. Click OK twice.

Figure E

Uncheck this option to use absolute hyperlinks in all Word documents.

Uncheck this option to protect absolute hyperlinks that point to files on your local system. This option is an application-level option, so your choice impacts all future Word documents. However, the truth is that this is an extreme setting that you will only use when you are not working within a larger organization. Otherwise, you may want a more flexible choice.

How to use absolute hyperlinks in current document

If you know you will always want to use absolute hyperlinks in the future, setting the option at the application level is a reasonable choice. If absolute hyperlinking is something you will do in some documents and not in others, you can set a document-level option as follows:

  1. Click on the File tab and then on Info.
  2. From the Properties drop-down list, choose Advanced Properties.
  3. Click the Summary tab.
  4. In the Hyperlink Base control, enter the absolute path you want for all hyperlinks in this document (F-number).
  5. Click OK.

F-number

Enter an absolute path in the Hyperlink Base option.

This property can be a bit confusing because you’re not forcing every hyperlink to be absolute; you force each hyperlink to be absolute by using the same path. Knowing the difference between relative and absolute hyperlinks can prevent failures when linking to documents outside your domain.

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